Attendees and apologies
- Angela Constance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security & Equalities (Chair)
- Aileen Campbell MSP, Minister for Public Health & Sport
- Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government & Housing
- Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Childcare & Early Years
- Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Employability & Training
Guest speaker (attending part of the meeting):
- John Mills, Head of Housing Services, Fife Council
Items and actions
1. Welcome, introductory remarks
Ms Constance welcomed Ministers to the group and outlined the context for the work:
Despite parliamentary inquiries and work to address their recommendations over the last 15 years, progress has been slow and Gypsy/Travellers experience the worst outcomes on every indicator – health, life expectancy, education, and employment.
Many Gypsy/Travellers live in deplorable conditions, whether on unofficial encampments or official sites. Addressing site provision will make it easier to tackle other inequalities.
Attitudes towards Gypsy/Travellers are worse than for any other group, and the discrimination they face is described by the Equality and Human Rights Commission as ‘the last bastion of acceptable racism’.
Future meetings will focus these key areas and is reflected in Ministers portfolio areas: education, health and employment. Today will focus on housing.
2. Setting the context and how the MGW will work
Issues faced by Gypsy/Travellers cuts across ministerial portfolios. We need to work together – and with other ministers - to develop effective solutions and deliver on those. We need to be robust and prepared to challenge each other and make unpopular decisions.
It is important to gain the faith and confidence of the community and we will engage with the community as a group, and as individual ministers.
The first task for the MWG is to assess progress against recommendations from the parliamentary inquiries, identify gaps and priorities for action.
Ministers were invited to make opening remarks:
Aileen Campbell: Absolutely committed to ensuring our major public health messages reach the Gypsy/Traveller community. Our work with public health bodies and with health care professionals delivering primary care and social care must take account of this community, as must the forthcoming legislation on carers.
Maree Todd: Keen to ensure that the Year of Young People includes this community, not least as a way of tackling negative attitudes. Want to work with the community to raise expectations of what education can offer.
Kevin Stewart: Very concerned about the living conditions of some Gypsy/Travellers, whose amenity blocks can be poorly insulated, leading to freezing bathing conditions and huge fuel bills. Concerned about health and safety risks.
All ministers agreed on the value of celebrating Gypsy/Traveller tradition and culture, and the importance of tackling the discrimination experienced by the community.
3. Focus on housing/planning
Angela Constance welcomed John Mills, Head of Housing Services from Fife Council to the meeting.
Kevin Stewart outlined the current system for site provision in local areas. It is for each local authority to determine the need for/make provision for sites in their area, using Housing Needs and Demands Assessments and Local Housing Strategies. This should also include consideration of smaller, private sites. All of this sits within the Scottish Planning Policy and the National Planning Framework, both of which are going to be updated in the near future.
Recognise there is a shortage of sites. Will shortly undertake a mapping exercise which will help identify gaps in terms of permanent, and halting sites for those who are travelling. Also need to consider whether existing sites are used/under-used, and the reasons for this. Important to understand what is required and how this can be delivered.
Local authorities (LA) and registered social landlords (RSL) have a range of options for funding Gypsy/Traveller sites including rental income and capital grant allocation, and those who make adequate provision find it easier to deal with unauthorised encampments, which is where much of the tension arises.
Site standards are also an issue. We are currently undertaking a review of how well LA and RSL sites are meeting the published minimum standards. The first stage was a survey of LA and RSL providers and we are now following this up by gathering information from residents through a combination of written returns and site visits ahead of the requirement to meet minimum standards by June 2018.
4. A local authority perspective
Angela Constance invited John Mills to give a local authority perspective, asking what the Scottish Government could do to help at the local level.
John Mills gave an overview of provision for Gypsy/Travellers in Fife, and highlighted current challenges, including:
- funding to provide, upgrade and improve services on sites (this impacts on the ability to meet minimum site standards)
- meeting the needs and aspirations of G/T families, especially around education and training opportunities
- adapting or providing suitable accommodation for an ageing G/T population
- strong leadership and a joined up/corporate approach to Gypsy/Travellers
Other issues that were raised in discussion included:
- the importance of leadership/buy in from public services in all sectors and all levels, and co-operation across professional boundaries
- the effect of the UKG benefit cap on G/T families and the impact on children’s rights
- higher levels of fuel poverty than within the settled community
- the possibility of moving G/T site costs from the General Fund to the Housing Revenue Account
- use of off-site production housing, eg pod housing or modular build homes, and suitability of site infrastructure to accommodate different types of housing provision
5. Summary of ministerial discussion
1. Consider the need for research on a) preferences for site vs settled accommodation and travelling patterns/aspirations within the community b) current lifestyles within the community.
2. Consider what changes could be made to the Scottish Planning Policy and the National Planning Framework to stimulate/support the provision of sites, including smaller family sites.
3. Explore the feasibility of moving G/T services from the General Fund to the Housing Revenue Account.
4. Consider whether Capital Grant allocation should be linked with the provision of sites.
5. Consider the pros and cons of setting targets (or expecting targets to be set) for the number of pitches to be provided in each LA.
6. Consider what action should be taken if the site standards review indicates LA/RSL sites will not meet minimum standards by June 2018.
7. Explore ways of nurturing leadership on G/T issues, by identifying local community champions, especially elected members.
8. Demonstrate that this work is taking a human rights approach, and articulate what this means.
9. Ensure that the G/T community benefits from wider work to alleviate poverty, including fuel poverty, food poverty, child poverty. 10. Explore ways to increase benefit awareness, entitlement and take-up; and promoting Self Directed Support in the G/T community.
6. Next meeting of the Ministerial Working Group
MWG2 will focus on education, and will take place on Thursday 3 May.
Telephone: 0131 244 7326
Secretariat to the Ministerial Working Group on Gypsy/Travellers
Scottish Government Equality Unit
Edinburgh EH6 6QQ